If you’re interested in getting into venture capital, the good news is that there’s no set path to breaking into the industry.
The bad news? There’s no set path to breaking into the industry ;)
Generally speaking, if you can show firms that you’ll be able to help them find winning deals they otherwise would have missed (HT: Rob Go @ NextView Ventures), then you’ll over time (and it could be a long time) find a place in venture capital.
Of course, the hardest part is getting your foot in the door. Venture capital job openings are incredibly competitive, and it’s not unusual to see several hundred applicants for a given role.
So, how do you get into venture capital? I’ll detail some best practices below, including steps you can take to differentiate yourself when starting out, how to progress your career as you get some experience under your belt, and tactics & strategies I used myself to get VC job offers on 3 separate occasions.
But before I do that, let’s quickly review what kind of work is out there in VC.
What kind of roles are available in venture capital?
Interns and Fellows
Designed for students, internships and fellowships offer a taste of the industry and can pave the way for future full-time positions.
As an intern, you will have the opportunity to work on a variety of tasks, ranging from market research and competitive analysis, assisting in due diligence, to potential deal sourcing. You might also prepare investment memos, do some financial modeling, and analyze startup pitches.
Some VC firms also allow interns to sit in on partner meetings and startup pitches, giving you first hand exposure to decision-making processes and the chance to observe how VCs interact with founders.
Some VCs aren’t ready to hire an intern. But they are almost always game to have someone help them out who they believe will give them an edge in deal flow or diligence or both. The good news for you is that you can pitch your assistance as a project instead of an internship. I did exactly that when I was in business school. And that project (and the name of the firm) landed right on the top of my resume, leading to my first “official” VC internship with another firm.
What do I mean by pitching a project? Here are a couple of example pitches you could adjust based on your own interests and industry background.
“I have work experience in FinTech, and see a lot of interesting things happening in the payments space. I’d like to build out a market map and thesis for your firm around payments. I’ll do it for free and I’ll share everything that I learn in the process, plus introduce you to interesting startups that I come across.”
“I noticed your firm is interested in enterprise software. I see a lot of opportunities in microservices because of my (job/background/personal interest). I’d like to research the space, write a report for you about it, and then walk you through it.”
Aside from completely avoiding the “We’re not hiring interns right now” situation, this approach has other benefits, too. Like:
- You can tailor your proposal to your strengths and interests, and with the firm’s stated interests.
- If you’re a student, you can often get school credit for it. Which means you’ll have more time to devote to it.
- It gives you an excuse to create a well-defined output (a deck, a report, a …). That exercise will benefit you when you’re talking to other firms in the future about internships or jobs.
- It’s independent of internship hiring cycles i.e. you can pitch firms on this any time.
- You can do projects with multiple firms at the same time.
- You can work from the city where the firm is based, or from a different city.
- You can set your own hours and work when you want.
- You can (and should) use the firm’s name on your resume during and after the project.
As paid roles go, it all starts with analysts, who are usually the most junior members of the investment team. These roles are typically pre-MBA, and they handle a lot of the initial legwork for potential investments, including market research, financial modeling, and initial screenings of potential investment opportunities. Often these positions are scoped to be a couple of years in duration, after which point the analyst will likely go work for a portfolio company of the firm, another startup, or get an MBA.
Associates often come into VC with a few years of experience in investment banking, management consulting, or an operational role at a startup. They take on more responsibilities than analysts, including more detailed investment analysis, due diligence, and liaising directly with founders. They may also assist in deal sourcing and portfolio management. Associates, like Analysts, are often on a “Two Years & Out” plan as well.
Senior roles – Principals, Vice Presidents, and Partners
I won’t cover these as thoroughly in this guide, but as they grow venture capital firms include senior roles like principal and partner in their structure. Principals and Vice Presidents report to partners, and are responsible for driving the end-to-end investment process, including sourcing deals, leading due diligence, getting internal buy-in to invest, closing the deal, and (in some cases) taking a board seat.
I want to pitstop on the “Partner” title for a moment, because it’s used more often than ever. Title is cheap, so sometimes firms dangle the “Partner” badge as a shiny allure, even if it doesn’t come with a significant stake in the firm. Title also may matter to some founders, so slapping that title on a LinkedIn profile can boost the street cred of the “partner”. And then there are those cool-sounding roles like “Venture Partner” or “Operating Partner” that might not pack the same perks.
Next, let’s get into some of the background requirements that you’ll need to be considered for one of these roles.
Before I start my job search, what background do I absolutely need?
A business or technology degree — or a relevant startup or industry background
In a 2018 survey of 5,000 American and Canadian VC partners, TechCrunch found:
- 27% had undergraduate degrees in technology or science (the largest cohort)
- 26% had majored in social sciences, typically economics
- 18% had business degrees
No surprise there. An undergraduate degree in finance, economics or business administration can give you a solid foundation for the finance aspects of venture capital. And because so many early stage companies are tech-focused, a degree in engineering or a science can be incredibly valuable when it comes to sourcing and due diligence of startups.
The survey also noted that roughly 70% of investment partners surveyed had graduate degrees, the most common being the MBA.
If you don’t have degrees like these, there are other paths into the industry. If you have a background working in and around startups, and have developed a track record of success, it might be a natural transition to move into venture capital.
And even if you’ve not worked in startups, deep industry expertise and contacts could also lead you into VC. For example, who better to evaluate startup opportunities in FinTech than someone who had spent the last decade of their career working at PayPal? Who better to pick the next great auto startup than someone who worked for GM for 20 years? If you can tie that experience back to how you could help a firm pick (and win) compelling investments, you’ll be in a good spot.
An investor mindset
What does that look like? Well, from a tangible perspective, it means having a robust grasp on financial modeling, business analytics, due diligence, and how to build an investment thesis. You’ll also need to be a strong critical thinker, communicator, and predictor of market and industry shifts.
Get a deeper understanding of financial modeling with the VC financial modeling bundle. Get access to all of the key VC financial modeling concepts you’ll need to know for interviews and when you’re on the job, including: SAFEs, Cap Tables, Pro Rata Rights, Liquidation Preferences, The “Option Pool Shuffle” and “Fund Returner” Calculations.
A killer network
Networking plays a pivotal role in breaking into venture capital, and then succeeding once you’re in the industry. This is because the VC ecosystem operates based on relationships, referrals, and your capability to bring the firm information they otherwise couldn’t have found.
When you hop onto a Zoom for an interview, you might get quizzed about your process for evaluating a startup. If your answer starts and ends with, “I’ll look them up on Google,” it’s a good sign that your network isn’t strong enough.
Building a robust professional network in the industry — venture capitalists, founders, and service providers — will not only make you better at your job, but it can also open doors to new job opportunities.
How do I build my professional network within venture capital?
When you’re getting started in your search, this approach lets you build momentum early on, while buying you time to really hone your pitch so that you’re ready for more targeted networking 👇
Start with friends, family, and former colleagues with relevant experience and networks so that you can refine your story and ask questions about the industry in a low stakes environment. As you build confidence, use your educational and professional networks to connect with startup founders and VC firms. Once you have your pitch down and your investment thesis developed, approach firms that you believe may be hiring (or that may know firms that are hiring). This also includes approaching people who may be connected with VCs, including startup founders & and employees.
Of course, you should also try to expand your network by attending startup and VC focused events. These include demo days, meetups, and conferences. But don’t discount less formal opportunities to build your network, like dinner clubs or startup / VC focused running groups. Sometimes these end up being better ways to build connections and relationships.
If you’re still having trouble building your network, I’ll share another method I’ve used personally and successfully. Try reaching out to newly minted junior VCs directly, through a DM or cold email. They absolutely understand how the VC job search works, have recently grinded through it, and will be sympathetic if you present yourself in a compelling way. If you can add some value to them (in the form of quality company introductions, for example), they’ll often help by referring you to other firms or convincing one of the partners at their firm they should take a meeting with you.
Build a rock solid investment thesis with the Investment Thesis Playbook. Includes invaluable source material to help you get your foot in the door at venture capital firms.
As a student, how do I find an internship in venture capital?
As I mentioned above, getting a VC internship while you’re still in school is a great way to grow your network. However, this creates something of a chicken-and-egg problem. How do you get an internship to grow your network if you’re a student and you don’t have a network yet?
Students tend to find internships through three routes:
- They are recommended by someone close to the firm – This is the ideal scenario. Maybe you have a professor that has an existing relationship with a VC firm and can recommend you for an internship based on your performance in their class.
- They apply directly – Many venture firms openly list open internship roles on job boards like ours. The application process works similarly to getting hired for a full-time role, which I’ll break down below.
- They CREATE an internship – This is what I did when I was in business school, and mentioned earlier in this post. I came up with an idea for an independent study that drew from my earlier work experience, then pitched it to a VC firm – one that hadn’t posted any internship opportunities. The firm saw the value and accepted the proposal, my school gave me credits towards graduation upon completion, and I was able to include the project – and the firm’s name – on my resume.
What to expect in your internship
During your internship, you can expect to be involved in various aspects of the VC investment process. This might include researching industry news, identifying potential investment opportunities, participating in due diligence processes, and assisting with portfolio support.
You’ll likely be doing some financial analysis and modeling, market research, and possibly even some work with legal documents. You might also expect to attend meetings with entrepreneurs and other investors, which is a fantastic opportunity to observe and learn.
Ending your internship (and why you shouldn’t do it, until you absolutely have to)
At some point your internship may come to what seems like a logical end. Maybe it was a “summer” internship. I also know you might think that ditching it might free up time for more job applications as you get closer to your graduation date.
But pause and think before you make what could be a rash decision.
Being in a VC role, even as an intern, is golden. That ‘@somevc.vc’ email address? It’s more than an address; it’s a VIP pass. It sets you apart, making you a peer rather than an outsider.
And that association with a VC firm can help you craft a more impressive investment thesis, network with potential hiring VCs, and liaise with founders who might introduce you to other VCs or founders.
You’ve earned your spot on the inside. Why step out? So when you’re coming to the end point of your internship, see if the firm would be open to you staying on in some capacity. Maybe you work on an investment thesis for them. Or act as a scout.
If you can hold onto that VC email address and be able to keep “- Current” in your resume, you’re in a much better position to nab a full time position than folks who are on the outside looking in.
How do I find which stage of VC investing is right for me?
Venture capital investing varies widely based on the stage of investment.
Early-stage investing tends to be more risky, where the startups you’re investing in likely consist of a team and an idea – and not much more than that. The majority of these investments are likely to be total losses. However, the tiny number of these startups that do succeed are likely to generate high returns (think 10, 50, or even 100 times the invested capital). Also, because it’s the earliest days of these startups,you’re likely to be working closely with the founders that your firm has backed
Growth-stage investing is generally less risky. These companies have proven business models and are looking to scale. The focus will be more on scaling operations and expanding into new markets.
Investment side or Platform/Operations?
Venture Capital firms by definition will always have investment professionals on the team. Larger firms are likely to also have one or more individuals focused on what is commonly called ‘platform’.
The investment team makes decisions about where to invest the firm’s money. They source deals, conduct due diligence, and try to help their companies reach successful exits that generate strong returns for the firm’s limited partners..
The platform team, on the other hand, is primarily tasked with supporting portfolio companies and often is responsible for firm related marketing, community, and events. They might provide portfolio companies assistance with hiring, marketing, customer acquisition, business development, or other operational areas. Smaller firms may only have a single person focused on the platform side of things, while larger firms may have multiple platform teams, each with a specific focus area.
Where do I find my first full-time role in venture capital?
Even though remote work has become more common in the VC world, location still matters when it comes to finding a full time role with a venture capital firm. The best regions and cities for VC jobs are typically those with active startup ecosystems and a high concentration of VC firms. Silicon Valley, Boston, New York, Austin, and London are good examples.
Preparing for your interview
Venture capital firm hiring managers are inundated with interviews and responsibilities, making their time extremely precious. Their goal in interviews is to quickly understand what sets you apart from other candidates and the unique value you bring.
The key to differentiation is pinpointing your “sweet spot” — the confluence of your Professional experience, Personal background, and Passions.
This trifecta of P’s encompasses your work trajectory, personal upbringing, and inherent interests. For example, a person with a finance background, raised in a sports-centric environment, and a fervor for athletics might excel in sports venture investments. This combination not only distinguishes you but also serves as a guiding compass in your venture capital career. Recognizing and comprehending your sweet spot early on is key.
Otherwise, prepare for your interview by understanding the firm’s portfolio, investment thesis, and culture. Be ready to discuss industry trends, your analysis of certain companies or sectors, and why you’re interested in VC.
Expect case-based questions where you’ll need to analyze a hypothetical investment scenario. You might also be asked about your past experiences, particularly those that demonstrate your analytical skills, strategic thinking, and ability to work in a team.
During your interview, you might be asked questions like:
- “Tell me about a startup that you think would be a good investment and why.”
- “What trends are you seeing in [a particular industry]?”
- “Can you describe a time when you had to analyze a complex problem and make a decision under uncertainty?”
- “Why venture capital?”
Check out my guide on venture capital interviews for more information on the venture capital interview process and examples of venture capital interview questions, including how to answer them.
The venture capital recruiting process can be painstaking and it isn’t always transparent, but with a combination of patience and persistence, you can make it through it.
In the next section, I’ll discuss what to do after you’re hired and how to make a great impression in your first role as a venture capitalist.
What to expect as a junior VC
As a junior VC, you’ll likely be involved in sourcing deals, conducting market research, and performing financial analysis for potential investments. You’ll assist in due diligence, help with portfolio management, and you’ll likely get the opportunity to sit in on meetings with startup founders during (e.g. pitch meetings) and after (e.g. board meetings) investment.
How much can I make working in venture capital?
Before we get into the numbers, let’s quickly cover how VCs get paid.
Venture capital pay is typically composed of three parts:
- Base salary
- Carried interest
The last one is one that you may not be familiar with if you’re new to the VC industry. Carried interest (or “carry”) is a share of the profits from the fund’s investments, typically 20%, which is mostly distributed to partners but is also used to compensate key staff. That being said, junior staffers should expect to get little to no carried interest.
How much do junior roles make?
We found in our most recent venture capital salary survey that analysts and associates can expect a base salary in the neighborhood of $90,000 to $150,000 annually. Again, people working in junior roles typically do not receive carried interest.
What about senior roles?
As you progress to more senior roles, the base salary increases and carried interest becomes a significant component of your compensation. A VC partner might have a base salary in the $300,000 range. But with carried interest, total compensation can exceed $1 million IF the fund performs well. Of course, it takes several years to realize carried interest on investments that can take 10+ years to yield returns.
How do I take the next step in my career?
For junior positions like an analyst or associate, it’s usually a “2 years and out” situation. Certainly it’s possible to be promoted to the next level, but most often you’ll see analysts and associates switch firms, join a startup, or go back to school for an MBA (usually at a top tier school)..
As to whether you can get promoted at your current firm, that will depend on a number of things including your fund’s performance, your contributions, the size of your firm, and the state of the VC market as a whole..
One thing I have seen over and over again is that who you meet once you’re in VC will dictate where you land should you choose to leave your current firm for greener pastures. It’s no coincidence that VCs tend to join VC firms that founders they’ve backed have started, or firms who have an investment or multiple investments in common. Planning in advance is critical.
Below are 30+ great posts that I’ve uncovered over the past 10+ years about how to get a venture capital job, broken out by area of interest. All of them are written by VCs or former VCs.
- Earnest Sweat of PLD Ventures shares his personal experience breaking into VC.
- Brandan Baker, formerly of Greylock, on how to –possibly– get a job in venture capital
- Pre-VC Tips: Part 1 (Who’s Hiring) & Part 2 (Interviews) by Stephan Von Perger
- Christina Cacioppo (formerly of Union Square Ventures) talking about what it takes to land a role in VC
- Thoughtful post by VC recruiter Denise Palmieri
- Jordan Kong writes about recruiting for VC on her blog
- NextGen Partners’ FAQ about getting into VC
- Former Greylock VC Brendan Baker writes about how to get a job in VC
- Ali Hamed writes about how to get your first job in VC
- Mateusz Kaliski of Rubicon Venture Capital writes about how he got a job in VC
- Ali Afridi of Lightbank writes about getting VC experience while still in school
- Matt Miller and Zach Winn of JetBlue Technology Ventures writes about getting a role in Corporate VC.
- Michael Tefula of Downing Ventures offers his take on VC and The Antidote to Getting a VC Job.
VC Partners on how to get a job in VC
Who better to teach you how to get a job in venture capital than VC partners and VC firm founders? Below are several posts from partners from a variety of firms about their path into venture capital, and their advice on how to get a job in venture capital.
- How Fred Wilson got into the VC biz and my reply, as well as Fred’s talk some with some business school and law school students about his career in VC
- Charlie O’Donnell’s interview with Jim Robinson of RRE Ventures about VC careers, his view of the Principal role at a VC firm, why it sucks to be a VC, and more of his thoughts on breaking into the VC business.
- Gaurav Jain of Founder Collective writes about how to be a VC without any capital
- Matt Turck of FirstMark writes about playing “fake VC” (or the portfolio approach to getting a job in venture capital)
- Elizabeth Galbut of SoGal Ventures writes about how she broke into VC as a 26-year-old woman
- John Greathouse of Rincon Venture Partners writes about how to become a VC
- Joe Tango of Kepha Partners on how he found his way into a VC role
- Hunter Walk writes about how Ana Diaz-Hernandez broke into VC
- Mark Davis, of Interplay Ventures, with tips on how to land a VC job
- Blake Robbins writes about how he became a VC in Detroit at 22
- How To Get A Job In Venture Capital by Brad Feld, ditto by Seth Levine
- Baiyin Zhou writes about hiring and breaking into the VC world
How to get a venture capital job as an MBA student
- ThInc writes about the dos and don’ts of pursuing VC as an MBA
- Eric Duboe from Pritzker Group writes about 4 keys to becoming a pre-MBA associate
- Questions from a reader of my business school blog about getting into VC biz
Whether you’re just beginning your journey or looking to advance in your VC career, continuous learning, networking, and dedication are essential. Remember, every VC career path is unique, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.
Stay curious, stay connected, and seize the opportunities that come your way.